Should anyone be in London tomorrow with time on their hands tomorrow evening, I’d recommend a trip to the British Film Institute Southbank.   Film and Television producer Tony Garnett will be discussing his work.  For those unfamiliar, this includes such ground-breaking dramas as Cathy come home, the Play for Today television production that lead to debates in Parliament and the setting up of Crisis, Kes, Cardiac Arrest and This life.

I was nine when Cathy come home was first broadcast.  A quarter of the UK’s population watched it (a play; a social commentary, one cannot imagine such a thing happening now) including our household.  Despite my youth it was simply electrifying.  Shot on hand held 16mm cameras, mostly on location and often using members of the public, a naturalistic style that typifies director Ken Loach’s films.  I year or so back I bought the DVD of Cathy come home.  At first I was reluctant to watch it, fearing that the passage of time and the antiquated technology used to shoot and record it would deaden the impact.  I was wrong.  It is still electrifying 46 years on.  Not only that, it would be surprising for such an overtly political play to be allowed on a mainstream tv channel today; one only has to look at the way political documentary makers such as John Pilger, long broadcast on British television, are now independently producing documentaries for cinema and web broadcast instead.  Up the junction is another of Tony Garnett and Ken Loach’s controversial collaborations likely to be discussed, this one dealing with back street abortions.  Later made in to a film, it was Garnett and Loach’s television play that was the inspiration behind Chris Difford’s lyrics for the Squeeze song of the same name.  If you haven’t yet seen Cathy come home, check it out at Ken Loach’s YouTube channel.

We live in an age where the technology rather than the content is given pre-eminence.  One only has to spend a short time online looking at blogs or Facebook to see the myriad images and comments posted praising or decrying the latest iPhone/Nikon/Canon quadzillion pixel camera/smartphone with apps for everything from when you should take a picture of your cat to how many images of your cat you should force others to look at.  Like the images of Salgado, Nick Ut and Thessiger, these dramas clearly demonstrate the converse is true; it is the content not the camera.

 Footnote:  It is said that the final scene in Cathy come home was shot on location, London Underground, as her baby was forcibly taken from the arms of a screening Cathy by the authorities, unsuspecting members of the public  formed the background.  No-one intervened.  I guess little has changed.